Try to imagine, if you will, the ultimate of winter wonderlands. A place where every direction that the eye might roam, you find just a touch of holiday cheer. A place where the very center of this floor is dominated by a seven foot tall Christmas tree, natural of course, not one of those fake plastic ones, and decorated in an array of colorful garland, blinking lights, tinsel, bulbs of varied colors as well as ‘old fashioned’ decor such as popcorn and berries strung together and draped around from the base to the very top along with candy canes hanging from the branches. Where every window in every room was framed in green and red garland with matching velvet bows. Silver garland with gold bells lined the corner of every surface from tables to counters. Winter knick knacks were strategically placed about the vicinity, everything from snowmen to elves and reindeer, and yes - the traditional Elf On A Shelf was somewhere around here! There were also countless more tabletop trees on mantles and table surfaces, small miniature versions of the main one that towered above the rest.
An actual toy train track was stretched completely around the entirety of the floor with a virtual town setting from the local WalMart Christmas department; the train weaving around and between small Winter pine trees, and an entire collection of the Holiday Time Village. To top even that, on the central table on full display was a holiday themed display of Hogwarts castle of Harry Potter fame. And around it, fancy place settings befitting this most loved of holidays.
No, you’re not looking at the center court of the Fashion Show Mall here in Las Vegas. No, you’re actually looking at the condo inside of Turnberry Towers where Fenris and Aron Baltasarsson call home. No, seriously! When Fenris was ‘laid up’ after two back to back attacks from the Supreme Machine of the Saviors, Aron and their ‘little sister’ Danielle Weston took full advantage of Kristjan being unable to intervene; well, Danielle did. Aron spent most of the time she decorated by preventing his volatile older brother aka the Grinch from doing or saying anything to ruin her fun.
There were Christmas cards everywhere the eye could see. And as the condo was almost entirely in white, Kristjan's own personal preference, Danielle saw fit to match his favored color with red accents everywhere the eye could see.
To quote the Grumpiest Man In Iceland himself? “It looks like someone shit Santa's workshop in here!”
“K?” Aron called aloud to gain his brother's attention as he slid open the walk-in closet just off the condo's foyer and removed his wool-lined aviator jacket. “When is David getting here?”
In the small kitchen, Fenris was busy at work, taking care of his baby girl, Kyssa. Pampering, one might say. Reaching into the refrigerator, he removed a gallon of purified water that bore the name of the canine. Okay, providing his pet not only bottled water but purified water at that? Maybe ‘spoiled’ is a more apt description of their master and pet relationship.
Fenris answered, “Any moment, why?” He poured the water into Kyssa’s,please water dish, allowing her to proceed lapping it up at his bare feet. He then stood upright and frowned at Aron’s approach, with Kyssa’s leash in hand. “Where the hell are you going?”
“Where's it look?” Aron answered back. “I'm taking Kyssa for her usual walk so Daddy can have his conjugal visit.”
“Oh for fucks sake!” Kristjan grumbled as he practically threw the water back into the refrigerator and made for his personal mini bar just off of the hall entrance. “I told you before! He's just coming over to talk!”
Aron murmurs, “Yes and we all know where your ‘talks’ lead…”
“SON OF A BITCH!!!” Prompting Aron to start and turn to see what had set his volatile sibling off THIS time. Kyssa? She just kept drinking away! Aron approached and saw Kristjan with his mini bar cabinet wide open and staring aghast at the refrigerated contents inside.
“What?” Aron asked. “What's wrong!?”
Fenris turned around to him, but he's left arm was outstretched toward the bar for emphasis. He hollered, “Look what Dani did to my bar! Where the hell is everything!?”
Aron leaned over to the side at the waist so as to see past Kristjan and into the bar, and had to choke back a laugh at his brother's expense and risk igniting that famed temper of his. Dani indeed had done to the mini fridge what she had done to the rest of their home; give it a touch of holiday flare. Gone were his favored hard liquors INCLUDING his Icelandic brand beer, and in their place was a more holiday variety of beverages such as eggnog, Peppermint Bark rum, mulled wine, gingerbread Irish creme, Apple brandy and a few others.
Aron just looked at his brother with a raised brow and Kristjan just turned away from him with an audible huff and he started rummaging through the bar's contents, Aron asking “A little early for that, isn't it?”
Kristjan cast a hard glance back over his shoulder and replied, “Have you met me?”
But there was a reason why Aron had asked, just as he knew there was a reason why his brother was looking for a stiff drink perhaps earlier than the norm. While it was true Fenris had turned drinking into an art form, he rarely started this early in the day unless he had reason; and Aron had a suspicion that his brother’s reason was on his way over.
“Are you that concerned about this talk?” Aron asked, to which Kristjan stood upright and turned around with a bottle of brandy and a glass. About the strongest thing Dani had left for him. Kristjan replied, “What talk? I’m just telling him I’m going to Iceland.”
“K…” Aron sighed as he took the risk and gently slipped both glass and bottle from his brother’s hands and set them aside. “If you were just telling him that, you’d be a lot more at ease.” The two stared at one another for what seemed an eternity but was, in reality, perhaps a few seconds at most. Aron’s eyes never once left Kristjan’s as he asked, “You’re telling him why, aren’t you? You’re going to tell him about Jökull.”
Kristjan simply braced himself, and his posture stiffened. The tragic subject of the deceased Jökull was a source of great emotional pain for him, so much so that he practically shut out the subject, having only openly discussed him with one person; Ben Jordan. Aron then drew him from his pained memories, saying, “I know I made a mistake when I told Ty about Jökull. It wasn’t fair to you to tell him your secret. But if I have to be honest…? I don’t regret doing it, even if it did drive a wedge between us for a time.”
This drew a hard stare from Kristjan, but Aron smiled, continuing with his line of thought, “Because what came of it made you happy, for a time. At least until we all found out what a two-faced bitch Ty really was.Ty always acted like he was competing for your friends, and worse? Like he was competing with Jökull’s memory. But in coming to know him these past couple of months, there is one thing that I’m fairly certain on.”
“Yeah? What’s that?”
Aaron shook his head, “David isn’t Ty West.”
Speak of the devil - pun intended, David Shepherd himself had been standing out in the hall of Kristjan and Aron’s floor for a fair few minutes. But he wasn’t trying to listen in on whatever rumblings he might have overheard behind closed doors. He was much more perplexed at what he was seeing before him; so much so that even though he knew he was in the right place, he was still left wondering whether or not he was.
The door frame was lined completely from the base of one side up, across the top and to the bottom of the opposite side with silver and gold garland. There was a traditional wreath on the door, and at his feet, a Grinch doormat featuring an optical illusion that had him wondering whether or not he was in need of glasses. He finally ‘shook it off’ and raised a hand to knock - when the door swung open and Aron blinked in surprise before the younger of the brothers laughed openly.
“Well don’t just stand there…” Aron smiled, stepping around David and into the hallway, as David made a move inside through the door but looked back out to Aron. “I was wondering if I was in the right place! Those decorations threw me.” He then turned around and saw everything laid out before him ala Danielle and gaped openly. “But not as much as this! Holy shit, it looks like someone shit Santa’s workshop in here!”
Fenris smirked very brazenly as Aron simply shook his head in mock disbelief. He quipped, “You two really are meant for one another!” Before he left, shutting the door behind him.
David turned about to face Fenris, but before he could address his man, he heard the patter of paws on the floor and David immediately walked across the foyer to where Kyssa had just emerged from the kitchen. She plopped down on her haunches as David lowered himself to one knee and he started to give her some much deserved attention, running his hands through her silken, snow-white fur and scratching her in her favored spots.
“That’s my girl.” He found himself saying, despite the need or desire to keep up his public asshole number one image. Kyssa, of course, repaid his words and affection in kind with a few sloppy doggy kisses, before she fell over and rolled onto her back; an open invitation for belly rubs if there ever was one. And as David obliged, he cast a look back over his shoulder to Kristjan who was watching the scene with no small amount of amusement.
David asked, “So what was so important that it couldn't have waited until dinner tomorrow night?”
“I wasn’t aware we were going out to dinner tomorrow night.”
“I haven’t told you yet.” David replied before he finally finished giving Kyssa her belly rubs, then he stood up to Kristjan and just nodded, “So what’s going on?”
“Sit down.” Kristjan directed him, nodding toward the living room with the expansive sectional sofa crafted of plush felt. David did as he was asked, but still felt bold enough to quip, “Oh that doesn’t sound good.” With Kristjan (and Kyssa) following. Once David had a seat, Kristjan took a seat beside him and Kyssa crawled up onto the sofa between the two so that she might be pampered a bit between the both of them. David did indeed continue running him hands down along her back and neck, but his eyes were imploring as he waited for Kristjan’s explanation.
“I’m going to Iceland in three days.” Kristjan’s statement came from out of nowhere, catching David by surprise. Even though he had been confident that he and Fenris were on solid ground between them, there was still a sense of relief. Almost as if he had been waiting for the proverbial ‘other shoe’ to drop. But…this?
“You’re going to Iceland.” David said as more of a statement than a question, perhaps making certain that he had heard correctly. And as Kristjan nodded in the affirmative, he knew that he had. David glanced about in casual confusion as he asked, “Okay, why? I mean, I know your family was coming here for the holidays, but do you really need to fly all that way just to escort them?...”
“No.” Kristjan shook his head, stopping for the moment any further third degree. “No, I will be accompanying them here on the flight back, but this… it’s something that I do every year. It’s something I have to do.” Kristjan’s cool, blue eyes met David’s. “It’s personal.”
“Is that your way of saying you don’t want to tell me?” David asked. “Or that it’s none of my business?”
“No.” Was his answer. “It’s my way of stalling so I can grow a fucking set and tell you what you deserve to know!”
Hearing this, David leaned back against the sofa, and Kyssa stretched out, her upper half resting luxuriously across David’s lap. Now his interest as well as curiosity was peaked, but if it was something that had Fenris hesitant, he knew that it was something serious.So, he was prepared to give him all the time that he needed. And it did take some time. David was no fool; he could see an internal struggle taking place somewhere deep inside of Kristjan before the proverbial floodgate slowly opened.
Kristjan reached forward and picked up his cell phone from where it had been lying on the coffee table. He sat forward, his eyes glued to the screen in his hands as he searched for something, and upon finding it, his eyes simply - stared. And even from his vantage point, David could see there was something hurting behind those eyes. Before he could ask, before he could even sneak a glance at what Kristjan was looking at, he found the phone in his hands. David glanced down at the same image that had caused such a reaction in a man that he, up until now, had believed almost incapable of human emotion. Or at the very least, that level of pain.
On the screen was a simple photograph, a screen saver perhaps. The photograph was of two young men in school uniforms; one was easily recognizable, being the man that was seated beside him now. Younger, slimmer in build albeit still athletic and his hair considerably shorter. But those lips were a dead giveaway. But what caught David's attention the most was the extremely bright smile that was on his face. A smile he can't quite recall ever seeing on his face before. A smile that was pure and innocent, and … loving? The other boy, the one his Kristjan had his arm draped affectionately around the shoulder of, was a cute kid by David's own personal admission. Clearly of Asian descent, but being his schoolmate, he suspected that there were Icelandic ties to the boy as well.
"Who…?" David started to ask, but before he could finish getting the sentence out, Fenris answered, "Jokull." His voice was strained. David could hear the pain, sense it. "His name is Jokull. I met him in high school. I don’t know why, but we just bonded. Total misfit. Kids called him a half breed because he was part Icelandic, part Japanese. But me? He was my best friend. I…” He shook his head, clearly struggling, but David knew. He could easily read Kristjan enough to know where this story had been.
“You loved him.” David finally finished for him, and slowly – Kristjan yielded with a nod.
“I really did. And he, me. I can not describe how I felt when we were together.” He whispered gently. “He was there for me when I needed someone the most, and I’d like to think I did the same for him until…”
“Until…?” David gently pressed,and he was not prepared for when Fenris answered, “Until I got that sweet kid killed.”
And there it was, the deep pain that was perhaps the very source of Kristjan’s anger and pain that seemed to haunt him perpetually, endlessly. ‘Got him killed…’ The words still did not register. He had to have heard wrong. He shook his head and was about to ask for clarification, but Kristjan’s eyes opened and he was staring off into space with a blank look that, if David was going to be honest, frightened him. Kristjan closed his eyes again, and David felt a stabbing pain somewhere inside of his deepest sense of self when he saw the lone tear slide from Kristjan’s eye and down his cheek.
Kristjan said in a voice that was hoarse, “It was winter. The storm was bad. Winds. Ice on the roads. Snow was blowing so hard it was hard to see.” He shook his head. “It didn’t stop me from asking him to come over and stay the night. I shouldn’t have… I was so fucking STUPID…!”
“Kristjan…” David started to offer, laying a hand gently on his arm. But Kristjan kept going. Once the floodgate had been opened, he had to. “His mom didn’t want to, but she finally drove him over… an oncoming car lost control and hit them on his side, knocked them into a pole on his side… Th-they couldn’t save him!”
Kristjan turned his head to David and his eyes were no longer that lovely blue that David found beautiful, but red-rimmed and racked with an agonizing pain. “Sixteen… I loved him, and he died. Because of…”
“No.” David tried to assure him. “Not because of…” But Kristjan turned his head away from this man who had so recently captured both his attention as well as his affection. It was then that it became clear. David asked, “That’s why you’re going to Iceland.”
“Every year.” Fenris nodded. “On the anniversary of his death. I visit his mom, and his grave.”
David nodded, taking that in, and in doing so, stretched out the arm he was not using to pet Kyssa, and instead draped it around his man’s shoulder. This was not what he had expected. This hard truth had come from out of nowhere. The question remained…
What would he do with it?
It had been a long and difficult night for the tandem of Fenris and David Shepherd where truths had finally come out between them. Truths that needed to be shared, confided in, so that walls that existed between them involving their respective pasts that haunted them to this day could be torn down, and new paths be laid out between them.
Fenris now stood on his condo’s patio at night, his arms folded around him as he looked off into the night of the Las Vegas skyline. There was almost something hypnotically comforting about the lights that could be seen from this distance of the famed Vegas Strip.
“Ever since I first set foot in SCW in 2018, I’ve developed something of a reputation for being not just a hard worker inside of their six-sided ring, but an even harder fighter. People knew where I had trained, where I had come from, and it was something that they hadn’t seen before in this promotion. They saw me as something unique, but more importantly, they saw me as someone dangerous. Someone to be feared. And I would be lying if I went and told you that this was a feeling that I didn’t get a bit of a thrill from having. Week after week, they watched me be placed in the ring with the best that SCW had to offer, and at the time, there wasn’t a soul that could touch me. I mean, I must have been doing something right because Courtney Pierce and I ran through the Blast From the Past event to become the latest champions, and I set a record on winning the World Heavyweight Championship for a rookie in just four months. A championship I defended against the BEST for over eight months before finally losing it, and an undefeated streak that stretched almost a year, all at the same time.”
“And most of the time when a streak like that ends, the mystique behind it ends as well.”
He shook his head.
“Not so much where I was concerned. I wouldn’t allow it to happen. I knew it could, the people behind me knew that if I let that first loss get to me, it would be the end. So I worked harder, and if people thought I was dangerous before, it was nothing compared to what they had laid out before them now. I did not make a habit out of demanding title shots or attempting to become a two-time champion. Between 2018 and now? I had three title shots.”
He held up three fingers on his right hand.
“Just three. Why? Well two involved Ben Jordan, and that reasoning was simple enough; he and I knew damn well we’d give everyone out there a match that they’d never forget! But why did I not go the same route as certain other ‘divas’ and bastards that think the wrestling world revolves around them? Because I already know that I’m the best. If I decide to go after the World title, it’s on my terms. Otherwise, I ask for little. What I was not expecting was to have someone relatively new to SCW actually seek me out and want a match against me. When I heard that my name was on the ‘bucket list’ for Levi Russow, I thought for sure that there had to be some sort of mistake. Outside of Ben Jordan and Caleb Storms, I can’t recall anyone actually going out of their way to get a match against me! Until now. Until you, Levi.”
“To this day, I sit back and wonder what exactly was going through your mind when you put my name on that list and asked the powers that be for a match against me. Oh a few things ran through my mind. Maybe you weren't overly familiar with my work in the ring and saw me as some young rookie compared to your experience that you could use to your advantage in your grand return. Make a name for yourself at my expense, perhaps?”
“Then again, maybe you had seen my work. Maybe you had seen matches I had against the likes of Ben, Alex Jones, Senor Vinnie and Casey Williams, and rather than think me a pushover, you more think me a legit challenge that you wanted to test yourself against. Win or lose, you’d give me the very best that you’re capable of, and I the same. And after all, what better way to prove you still have everything in you than by facing legit threats rather than matches even blind men in Norway could see you winning. This is what I preferred to think of the situation between us, or maybe I’m just flattering myself. Having someone actually want to test themselves against me, it made me feel – good? When you were first signed to SCW and the hype was fresh in everyone’s minds, I looked you up. And I liked what I saw.”
“You’re not a quitter. Never say die attitude. Levi, you are a man that I could easily grow to respect. So imagine my disappointment to learn that a reason for you wanting to face me inside of the ring – was because of Candy.”
He cast a look to the stars and shook his head.
“Fuck’s sake! Unbelievable! I had hoped all of that bullshit was behind me after her husband got in my face and I made him tap out! I can respect him wanting to defend his wife. I can even respect you for wanting to defend a friend, but I am NOT the goddamn bad guy here! Did I make Candy cry? YES! Did I intend to? NO! And she wouldn’t have if she hadn’t been standing there in the backstage hallway, listening in on a private conversation I was having with my brother! Was I pissed at her? YES! Because after waiting so long to get a new opponent, a match that I was looking forward to, she went and fucked it up by changing it from a regular match to putting us in pudding that would make someone think they were on an acid trip! I am NOT a fucking sideshow freak, Levi! I don’t go flop around in pudding or mud or whatever! This is professional wrestling! Do you get it now? Do you understand in even the slightest way why I was so pissed off? Yes? No?”
“Then you take your little digs, taking on the schoolyard role by asking Candy on social media if I was the guy who made her cry. WITHOUT tagging me, I might add! Then making your little comments about wanting to punch me – well Levi. You don’t have to wait any longer. You got your match. You got your wish. I have nothing against you, but I sure as shit am not going to just sit back out of respect and let you just do whatever the hell you want without fighting back! I did not get where I am today in MMA or wrestling by letting anyone walk all over me! I fight, and I keep fighting until one of us can’t continue – usually my opponent! Which in this case, just so happens to be you. And as upset as I am, as annoyed as I am, the respect is still there.”
“And unfortunately, so is the sense of pity when I look on social media and see perfect strangers giving you more respect and support than your own son. Jack is acting like your comeback is unwanted, unneeded. He acts embarrassed that you still want to be a part of this sport and is practically saying you can't do it. Well I think you can! You wouldn’t have been signed to SCW if Mark and Christian didn’t think you can! So FUCK what anyone else has to say about your comeback, Russow! Nobody has the right to talk down about what makes YOU happy! Nobody has the right to take away from you what you want to do! Not your son! Not your wife! Nobody! And using your grandchildren as leverage? Jesus, that was low! You are far from being the oldest active wrestler in this sport! Your time is far from over! You’ll go, and you’ll keep on going! You’re hurt, like me, and you fight on, just like me!”
“And come Sunday, you get to cross another name off of your list, and I get a match against someone that has earned my respect without ever having stepped inside of the ring against me! Not since Alex Jones or Ben Jordan, have I ever been looking forward to a match THIS much! But once the dust settles, once you’re alert enough to open your eyes and stare up into those lights? Just remember one thing Levi – respect aside? I didn’t ask for this match. You did. So what is about to happen?”
“Is entirely your own fault.”